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TV Ratings: Clinton-Trump’s First Presidential Debate Is Most Watched Ever

Clinton Trump Debate
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

UPDATED: Monday night’s presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was watched by 84 million people, according to Nielsen, the largest audience ever for such a contest.

NBC averaged 18.2 million viewers for coverage of the Clinton-Trump debate, followed by ABC with 13.5 million, CBS with 12.1 million, and Fox with 5 million.

On cable, Fox News drew 11.4 million total viewers, followed by CNN with 9.8 million, MSNBC with 4.9 million, Fox Business with 673,000, and CNBC with 520,000. Univision averaged 2.5 million for its debate coverage, and Telemundo averaged 1.8 million.

According to Nielsen, ad-supported networks accounted for 81 million total viewers, with PBS affiliates accounting for the remainder.

The previous most watched debate was the 1980 contest between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan — the only one between the two candidates — which drew 80.6 million total viewers. The most watched of the three presidential debates in 2012 between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney drew 67.2 million total viewers.

Monday night’s debate also generated 17.1 million Twitter interactions from 2.7 million people in the United States, according to Nielsen.

In the primetime hour ahead of the debate, CBS’ freshman comedy “Kevin Can Wait” drew a 2.7 rating among adults 18-49 and 11 million viewers, according to Nielsen live-plus-same day numbers. That’s up one tenth of a point in the demo and down less than 1% in viewers from last week’s series premiere, despite following an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” that was down slightly from last week. “Kevin” likely benefited from starting a half hour before the debate, with viewers tuning in in search of or in preparation for the Clinton-Trump match-up.

“Big Bang” drew a 3.5, down 8% from last week’s premiere, and 14.1 million viewers. “Dancing With the Stars” gained one tenth in the demo from last week on ABC with a 1.8 and 10.7 million viewers. NBC’s “The Voice” was even with last week in the demo with a 3.3 and drew 12.1 million viewers. Fox’s “Gotham” was down one tenth in the demo at 1.2 and drew 3.7 million viewers.